At 8:30 a.m. when my alarm went off I jumped out of bed sick, but excited—my new President was about to address the world in his official capacity as the leader of the United States.


Watching from the comfort of my well worn Ikea sofa, I sipped tea and tried to control my nausea as I took in every word he let out. Unlike the Barack Obama I was used to, he was very serious, but confident and somewhat nervous at the same time. He wanted the world to know that what he was saying should be taken seriously.

“Our health care is too costly,” he said, almost glossing over these words.  “Amen!” I screamed at the television. I was grateful that America finally had a leader willing to say it that plainly and simply.

His words echoed in my mind for the next few minutes before I was taken back to the events of the previous Wednesday. While reporting on a party in the Mission District in San Francisco, I fainted and was rushed to the hospital. I told the EMT I was fine and just wanted to go home. I was actually worried about the cost, the portion that my university health insurance wouldn’t cover.

“This is going to be [expletive] expensive,” I mumbled to myself, laying on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance. The EMT insisted I should worry about my health first and the money later. But that wasn’t easy. My friend Thomas had something similar happen to him and ended up being hunted down by a collections agency for an inflated hospital bill for over $2,500—all because he needed fluids for dehydration.

It’s clear this country needs a system of universal health care. It was embarrassing watching victims of Sept. 11 receive care denied them in the U.S. from the Cuban government in Michael Moore’s Sicko. In 2006, while the average household’s out-of-pocket payment was about 30 percent of their total health expenditures in the U.S., costs were 20.2 percent in Italy, 14.5 percent in Canada and 6.7 percent in France, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And health care expenses have only been increasing. According to the National Coalition on Health Care, the annual premium for a single adult is over $4,400, and $12,700 for a family of four. In 2008 nearly 47 million Americans were uninsured.

My mind was reeling thinking about my health and these numbers. What about this lump on my left breast? A fiber adenoma can easily be a malignant lump in a few years. What about my not-so-slowly shifting teeth? Ever since my wisdom teeth were extracted (which cost me about $300 with health insurance) I’ve noticed the shifting and I’m worried. I loathed the clinic I had to go to for STD and HIV testing when I had no health insurance in 2006. And I hated the way Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan made me wait for hours to see a gynecologist when I had received free yearly pap exams when I was an underpaid, uninsured temp.

This new, very serious, somewhat stoic Barack Obama was right about our health care. It’ll be interesting to see if he can carry out the plans projected during his campaign. Americans won’t stop getting sick, but our health care system must quickly catch up with our needs. We should be able to rely on efficient coverage in a medical emergency rather than chance it with a costly hospital bill. As for my visit to the ER, I still haven’t gotten that bill. Until big changes are made to this country’s health system in ways that truly affect me, I guess I’m left leaving it up to prayer.  Amen.

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor at Berkeley’s J-school since 1990. My earlier career was at The New York Times working for the business, foreign and city desks. As an old...

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